Ideally, the loop between retailers, licensors and licensees should keep store shelves perfectly stocked to meet consumer demands, keeping cash registers humming and a lot of black ink marking corporate bottom lines. However, the ebbs and flows of the trend-driven licensing biz rarely make for ideal conditions. So when a surprise blockbuster success emerges, it only makes sense that others try to follow in its wake, and that’s happening with girl-skewing IP right now. After years of over-serving boys, it seems that the pendulum has taken a decidedly feminine swing, and Licensing Show promises to be replete with properties designed to appeal to girls.
In 2010, toyco Mattel introduced its internally hatched Monster High IP. The aged-down, high-concept Goth-meets-Twilight-meets-fashion doll might have been viewed as a risky move, but the results speak for themselves.
“With more than 200 licensees across almost 30 countries and more than 45 categories, it’s a multi-category global franchise,” says Diane Reichenberger, VP of consumer products at Mattel. “Monster High has become a billion-dollar brand at retail in less than three years.”
According to Port Washington, New York-based research firm NPD, Monster High fashion dolls hold the number-one slot in category sales in Spain and are number two in the US, Germany, France, UK, Mexico, Canada and Italy. Additionally, with expert marketing executions including well-placed online animated content and a highly visible retail promotion in more than 1,200 US Kmart stores, sales generated by Monster High’s licensing program grew 290% worldwide and 190% in the US between 2011 and 2012.
“With Monster High, [Mattel] found a good opening,” says Nancy Fowler, EVP of Toronto, Canada-based agency The Licensing Shop, slightly under-stating the case. So it’s not surprising that Mattel’s eye-opening success has sparked more interest in girls IP than at any time in recent memory. “The top two growth properties in 2012 overall were [girls brands] Monster High and Lego Friends,” says Russ Crupnick, SVP of industry analysis for NPD. “When you see one brand has success with a concept, it turns on the light for others.” Fowler adds that in her anecdotal experience, retailers have been looking for more girls properties since Nickelodeon’s Dora the Explorer program started slowing down a few years ago.”The market was demanding it,” she says. “There was a real opportunity to bring forth strong girls properties.”
New girls in town
With this in mind, The Licensing Shop has picked up international representation rights to a new girls IP from Australia-based Moose Toys. The Zelfs will roll out this fall with SKUs of small, medium and large dolls targeted at a broad girls four to 10 demo. “The feedback [from retailers] is that they are looking for more girl-oriented licenses,” says Paul Solomon, co-CEO of Moose Toys. “So we are optimistic.”
“The lead category is collectible mini-dolls,” says Solomon. “There are many brands within the doll category and there will always be, so it was imperative that when we developed this brand, we took time to understand what drives patronage within the category.”
Zelfs’ key point of differentiation is its combination of collectibility, fashion and hair play. The dolls, each identified by their “spiketacular hair,” live in garden playground Zardenia. They also convey a nurturing aspect—the tagline “Love Your Zelf” plays prominently in the brand’s marketing.
Meanwhile, Pinkie Cooper from Boca Raton, Florida-based The Bridge Direct was introduced to the industry earlier this year and will hit retail shelves this summer. Aiming for girls five to eight, the IP is based around a nine-inch fashion doll—who just happens to be part human and part English cocker spaniel.
“People are always projecting human qualities and personalities onto their pets,” says Jay Foreman, founder and CEO of The Bridge Direct. “With Pinkie Cooper, we are answering the question, ‘What if the dog was really a person?’ It might sound silly, but if you think about it, it is equal to the question, ‘What if monsters went to high school?’” The dolls and backstory were designed by well-known Bratz designer Carter Bryant, and the entire initial line consists of two dolls and three accessories. Retailers have been eager to get into the Pinkie Cooper business, and the range will be available at mass-market retailers in the US, and in half a dozen other major international markets, at the beginning of August.
“We feel like we are going to be launching at a very good time, when the consumer is looking for something fresh and new,” says Foreman.
And let’s not forget the company that brought Bratz into the world. Van Nuys, California-based MGA Entertainment is also introducing a girl-targeted IP later this year and will unveil its new multiple-SKU Mooshka line at Licensing Show.
Aimed at preschool girls, Mooshka has a paper doll aesthetic and includes six separate characters along with finger puppets. The backstory is that the dolls were once made of paper, but one day they “joined hands and through the power of friendship became dolls.”
“The positioning of Mooshka is to make them sweet, huggable and oh-so-lovable,” says Rachel Moshe, associate brand manager at MGA Entertainment. “It’s a unique aesthetic that is nostalgic for moms and also has European feel.”
The messaging around the dolls concentrates on themes of friendship and togetherness that will be further reinforced by an eBook set for release in July. The line includes Mooshka Tots and Girls, 9.5-inch and 13-inch dolls (with Velcro for hand-holding) and paper dolls. At the top of the range is a 15-inch sing-along assortment featuring two dolls that can sing “Ring Around the Rosie.” Taken as a whole, the line resembles a traditional Russian matryoshka doll set— the wooden dolls of decreasing size that fit inside one another. “The major retailers we have showed it to are very excited,” says Moshe. “It’s different from what is out there.”
Finally, the show will add recently announced Gangnam Girls from Saban Brands to the list. While information is scarce, it’s been revealed that the animated fashion- and music-led series will center on five teenage girls who are also magical heroes. While it’s still early, Saban is expected to follow the launch of the series with a fashion doll that, like the aforementioned properties, will look to fill a noticeable hole in girls IP offerings.